“Chiller Theatre” used to scare a lot of city kids

Wonderama was for the Sunday morning cartoon crowd. The PIX video game came on after school. The Yule Log ran on Christmas Day, as millions of presents were being torn open in New York City homes from the 1960s to the 1980s.

And for anyone excited about Halloween or horror flicks in general, there was Chiller Theater, WPIX/channel 11’s homegrown Saturday night scary movie show from the 1960s to 1982.

Every week, low-budget films about aliens and monsters thrilled anyone old enough to stay up late and watch. Even the opening montage, which you can relive here, could give kids nightmares.

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24 Responses to ““Chiller Theatre” used to scare a lot of city kids”

  1. Zoe Says:

    I’d forgotten about this. Thanks. I am too young to remember this opening though. I think it was different in the 70s. (In the 60s I wouldn’t have been up that late).

    Nor did I remember it was on Saturday night. What was on Friday nights re. late night films in the 70s?

    Remember when stations shut off late at night & each one had a different test pattern? Or having to adjust the ‘horizontal’ (& ‘vertical’… was there a ‘vertical’?) & ‘color’ knobs in the middle of watching something. The whole screen would undulate in waves – or you could make it more green or red. Now I feel ancient! (& Gen X only).

  2. Ty Says:

    A hand reached out of a grave in the opening while an ominous voice said “chiller”. I found junior high far more terrifying than anything that they showed.

  3. randomlyreading Says:

    I used to love Chiller Theatre. My sister and I would watch after everyone was in bed. Wonderama, the Yule Log, and Chiller Theater were such childhood favorites.

    • Zoe Says:

      “Wonderama” sounds vaguely familiar. Was that the show where a female hostess – like a nursery school/kindergarten teacher read to children (etc) in her studio & television audience?

      There was also the Soupy Sales Show. Which I don’t remember the content of; but I watched it w/ my older siblings & they would try to reproduce some games (?) from it in our “playroom”. This was probably around 1964.

      • Punto Says:

        Wonderama had Sonny Fox as host. I am of an age that allows me to recall the show, but that same age is responsible for the recollection to have faded to the point that I have no idea what Sonny was actually hosting on the show. I do recall that it was way more sophisticated than Romper Room and much of the content probably went right over my pre-adolescent head. There is a wiki article about him that fills things in a bit and also reminded me that Sandy Becker (also wiki biographed) preceded him as host.

      • Zoe Says:


        “I am of an age that allows me to recall the show, but that same age is responsible for the recollection to have faded…”

        ^^^ LOL! I hear you…

      • Aaron Says:

        Zoe, you’re recalling either Romper Room or Joya’s Fun School.

      • Beth Says:

        When I watched Wonderama, Bob McAllister was the host. I don’t remember much, either.

  4. Chip Says:

    Zoe: The show with the nursery school setting was “Ding Dong School”. There was a vertical and a horizontal hold, though some later models, as I recall, had only one of them.

    The different station test patterns could be interesting. WNTA (NYC but technically Newark) had a blurb on the test pattern: “13 is next to 2”. That was a promo to get people to find the station. It was the highest numbered VHF station in NYC and most people never went that far on their tuning dial. But as channel 13 came right after channel 2 on the rotary dial (no commercial channel 1 and no UHF receiver on most TVs) it was a way to get people to turn to 13.

    • Zoe Says:

      Chip: I was remembering Romper Room – I just realised. I don’t recall the one you mentioned. I am still trying to recall what Wonderama was.

      The NBC Peacock was probably the best. (Was that their test pattern or only sign off?).

      Since we are referring to ‘scary’ things – lol – there was the Beatles cartoon on Saturday mornings. Scary commercialisation of music/musicians…

  5. Zoe Says:

    My favourite scary film (though I would always see it during the day – along w/ my sister – rerun on 1960s weekend television) is ‘The Haunting’ (1963).

    Based on the 1959 Shirley Jackson novel ‘The Haunting of Hill House’. LOVE her. That & she also wrote the short story ‘The Lottery’. What a brilliant mind! Having grown up in New England her writing & stories are especially resonant.

    Robert Wise

    Julie Harris (Love!)
    Claire Bloom (Love!)
    Richard Johnson
    Russ Tamblyn

    This film is unsurpassed. (And the 1999 remake was beyond horrible). It has that cryptic Lesbian subplot for the Claire Bloom character – which seemed so daring for 1963.

    Wikipedia says that Scorcese placed it first on his list of eleven scariest horror films of all time. This is unsurprising. Please watch it if you’ve not already. I have always *loved* this film. My sister & I used to have to hold hands watching it when we were about ages five & seven – we were so terrified! (The bedroom scene w/ the knocking & the hands).

  6. Velvethead Says:

    No Joke. The hand with the 6 fingers coming out of the bog…

  7. Velvethead Says:

    Wonderama had Bob MacCalster as it’s host. I think I read somewhere he either drank heavily or chained smoked during commercial breaks. Dealing with 40 hyper kids for an hour can do that to you. 😉

  8. petey Says:

    claim to fame: i was on officer joe bolton’s thanksgiving show one year.

  9. John G. Caulfield Says:

    “Ding Dong School” was hosted by Miss Frances (I think). My favorite moment on Romper Room was when Miss Joan (or whoever) was plugging the sponsor, Cocoa-Marsh, and some little girl chimed in, “My Mommy only buys Bosco!” I wish we could find that clip somewhere (and, yes, I have looked) — a classic of live television.

    • Zoe Says:

      Lol John! Didn’t Bosco have a toy under the cap or am I remembering wrong? I was a toddler then. It was discontinued when I was still quite young.

      Damn those child safety laws that took the small choking size toys out of our food supply. I still love rings that look like the *gold* ones w/ green *stones* that came in Cracker Jack & cereal boxes. I still have a plastic yellow clown I found in a cereal box. Perhaps I’ll be cremated w/ that – it’s been w/ me so long. Lol – we used to get out big mixing bowls & empty out all the cereal to get to the tiny toy. And my mother never complained. I don’t remember who put the cereal back in the box.

      Don’t eat all your candy at once tonight everyone.

      • John G. Caulfield Says:

        I’m not sure about the toy. But I do remember that either Bosco or Cocoa Marsh introduced removable (twist-off) dispenser pumps — much to the chagrin of parents. After kids got bored with the novelty of pumping the chocolate directly into their mouths, they realized they could simply remove the pump and poured the glop directly into into their waiting oral apertures — the pump having taught them that a spoon was not really necessary..

  10. Jill Says:

    I’m pretty sure Wonderama was not 11.

  11. Jill Says:

    Uch sorry about that, no way to delete or edit.

    I’m pretty sure Wonderama was on channel 5 not 11.

    • Kevin Says:

      Yes, you are right Jill. It was on Channel 5 and I believe it ran for several hours on Sunday Mornings in New York. It always annoyed us as kids that our parents would not get us tickets. I would describe it as a variety/game show. The kids on the show would compete for prizes and from someone I knew that was on the show once, he came home with tons of free stuff. We stopped watching after Sonny Fox was replaced. Bob McAllister just did not cut it for us! I always remembered Sonny’s Theme music and was surprised years later seeing the Unsinkable Molly Brown and realizing Sonny rifted “I ain’t down yet”.

  12. Chip Says:

    Zoe: As I recall the peacock was not on channel 4 (WNBT, then WRCA, then WNBC) test pattern. I do believe once NBC went to color shows (starting when Channel 4 had the WRCA call letters) the test pattern had some color bars or graphics on it, highlighting their color broadcasting. The peacock was their logo but not on the test pattern.

    Regarding the toy premiums, Kellog’s had Snap, Crackle and Pop rings with the characters on them but they had to be ordered – they didn’t come in the Rice Crispies boxes. And of course the Captain Midnight ring/insignia were classics.

  13. David H Lippman Says:

    I remember Wonderama and Chiller Theater.

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